The Great Turtle Rescue of 2017

Everything I know about turtles, I learned from Alice Hoffman:

“People in Verity like to talk, but the one thing they neglect to mention to outsiders is that something is wrong with the month of May. It isn’t the humidity, or even the heat, which is so fierce and sudden it can make grown men cry. Every May, when the sea turtles begin their migration across West Main Street, mistaking the glow of the streetlights for the moon, people go a little crazy. At least one teenage boy comes close to slamming his car right into the gumbo-limbo tree that grows beside the Burger King. Girls run away from home, babies cry all night, ficus hedges explode in flame, and during one particularly awful May, half a dozen rattlesnakes set themselves up in the phone booth outside the 7-Eleven and refused to budge until June.
At this difficult time of the year, people who grew up in Verity often slip two aspirins into their cans of Coke; they wear sunglasses and avoid making any major decisions.”
– Alice Hoffman, Turtle Moon

So, it surprised me that my morning bike ride took me past newly posted “Turtle Crossing” signs along the perimeter road of my condo’s complex. Even more surprising were the number of folks pulling turtles out of the hedges and out of traffic. Our man-made pond contains almost 20 turtles, a good number of which are female. They took a clue from nature last night and made a beeline (turtleline?) away from the pond to nest. I found one next to the fire lane curb near the main road, a fair distance from the pond.

Have to say it was the closest I’ve come to seeing a look of confusion on the face of a turtle, unless you count Mitch McConnell.

Turtle facts: Beginning in late spring through summer, female turtles leave the safety of their ponds and creeks to find a dry spot to dig a nest. Nesting habitat is typically located on sparsely vegetated, typically south- and west-facing slopes at distances of up to 500 feet from the water’s edge. Ideal sites are free from artificial irrigation (sprinkler systems) because the western pond turtle’s hard egg shells can explode when wet. While most western pond turtles nest somewhat near water, they have been documented traveling long distances (more than 500 yards) to upland habitat to lay eggs.

At any rate, I was proud (and a little crazy) to be a part of the great turtle rescue of 2017.

The Boy Who Hung the Moon

Light streamed into the solarium over the wicker-backed couch with the flower print cushion of pink and lime. Sedona Lakes, the four-year-old son of a hardware engineer and a plant lady, was holding a crystal up to the window. It was a clear tendril from a broken chandelier. He liked the way it made a rainbow across his mother’s computer keyboard. He like how it could scatter light. He liked the way it floated when only he was looking. And the way it fell out of the sky when someone else came into the room.

“Did you drop something, Seddy?” his mom asking, seeing the crystal lying on the floor.

Sedona didn’t answer. He just picked it up and held it up to the window again until it bent the light that was split into colors across the room.

“Should we get ready for school?” his mother asked, grabbing his coat from the hall tree. “It’s almost time to go.”

Sedona kept looking at the prism and the light while his mother manipulated his arms into the sleeves of his coat. The winter sun was always the brightest and the coldest. It spun around him like a lost whirlpool seeking an unknown shore.

“Dad will pick you up tonight,” his mother said, holding him by the hand as she took him to the car. “I am going to my meeting.”

Sedona knew what “my meeting” meant. It meant that his mother would not come home for dinner. His dad would cook hot dogs, and then they would split an orange for dessert. Then his dad would take a can from the refrigerator, go into the living room, and turn on the TV. He would be silly and play for a little while, then he would tell Sedona to be quiet and go away. He would change the channels frequently, get more cans from the refrigerator, and start yelling at the TV.

Usually, Sedona would go upstairs and put himself to bed. Other times, he would go upstairs, but couldn’t fall sleep because his mother would come home and his parents would start arguing. On those nights, he would take his crystal and climb out the window. Sitting on the tree branch, he would hold the glass up against the night sky. Sometimes he pretended it was a star, and on the darkest night, he would pretend he was in charge of hanging the moon in the sky, and he would attach his glass tendril to a string and hook it to the branch above him.

His mother strapped him in the car seat and drove to him to the special school. She asked him what he thought he would do at school that day, but he didn’t answer. He was busy staring at the paper on the floorboard. He liked the big letters across the top of it. AL-ANON. He liked the tall peaks in the letters and the pattern. A something A. N something N. It had an A like the word Autistic. A something T. I something S.T something. That word didn’t have a good pattern.

His mother parked in the usual place between two white lines. She walked with him to his classroom, but she stopped at the door. She kissed him on the cheek and he walked in alone.

“Good-bye, Sedona,” his mother said. He didn’t answer her. “Remember, Daddy will pick you up tonight.”

He didn’t want to think about that. He went straight to the colorful blocks on the floor in the corner. His teacher would try to make him do other things, or talk, or play a game with the other kids, not that they wanted to play with him. But he preferred to line up the blocks, the way that one other boy in class just wanted to color only with a red crayon. Or the way the little girl would draw only circles on the chalkboard. Sometime he liked the patterns that she made with big and little circles, but not enough to leave the blocks.

Lunch and naptime came and went, and the teacher put the ball in his hands and asked him roll it to her. He did once, and then walked back to the blocks. They were better. She tried again, but soon, she went to the circle girl and tried to have her play with the ball, too.

At the end of the day, the circle girl went home with her mother, and the red crayon boy went home with his. He sat in the room alone with only his teacher and played with the blocks while she read a book and looked at the clock. His father came later and helped him put on his coat.

“Ready to go home, Sport?” his father said, but Sedona just looked back at the blocks, all red, green, blue, and yellow, until his father led him out of the room and he couldn’t see them anymore. There were no papers on the floor of his father’s red car. No patterns to look at.

“I thought maybe we could have hot dogs tonight,” his father said, when the car stopped. Sedona didn’t answer. He looked at the light on the pole across the street. It had a red circle on top, which went away. Then, a green circle appeared below it. “I bought oranges, too,” his father said. “You like oranges.”

His dad didn’t ask questions with big quiet spaces after them like his mom did. She would stare at his face and Sedona wouldn’t look back at her. His dad never seemed to look at him. He just said his words and drank from the can.

Oranges were good, so orange and round. Inside, they had soft segments that made a pattern. After dinner, his dad opened one up like a flower and pulled the pieces off one by one.

“There you go, Sport,” he said, giving all the pieces to Sedona. That was different. Usually his dad ate some too. “I’ll just have a beer.”

It wasn’t long before his dad was yelling at the television. Sedona had gone upstairs and crawled out on the tree branch with his crystal. That’s where he was, looking at stars, when the headlights from his mother’s cars sweep across the front lawn. She put the car in the garage and closed the door. His father’s voice was loud.

“What are you going to those fucking meetings for?”

Sedona did not hear his mother’s voice. Across the hall, the bedroom door slammed.

“Answer me!” His dad’s voice echoed up the stairs. Again, Sedona did not hear his mother’s voice. Just the muffled sounds of crying.

“To hell with you!” his father said, and there was no yelling after that.

The moon shown big and round that night, which was good. Sedona did not want to have to hang up his crystal. Instead, he liked to swing it back and forth, just to watch it move. The rhythm made him feel peaceful inside. He rocked his head back and forth to follow the movement until it started to make him sleepy. The crystal slipped out of his hand.

Sedona watched it fall to the ground, tumbling and twirling until it bounced on the grass below him. He looked down at it, and then tried to look at the moon and the stars. They weren’t as pretty as his crystal. He would need it the next time the moon didn’t come or the stars wouldn’t come to bed with him. Some nights, the moon didn’t come at all.

He wanted to fly down and get it, but he was afraid. The tree was friends with his window, but the ground was not. He crawled back in the window and lay on his bed, watching the patterns on his ceiling. He could not take them out to the tree. He could not hang them like the moon. He pushed his blankets aside and headed down the stairs.

“Where do you think you are going?” his father said, when he walked through the living room. Sedona kept walking toward the front door.

“I asked you a question, boy,” his father said. His father got off the couch and walked past him, standing between Sedona and the door. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Sedona’s father was looking at him across the big quiet space just like his mom did. Sedona reached for the door knob, but his father pushed his hand away.

“Talk to me,” his father said, his voice growing louder. “Why are you going outside?”

“My moon fell from the tree,” Sedona said, and his father stepped back.

Sedona opened the door and headed out to the front lawn.

“Wait,” his father said, following him and calling over his shoulder. “Liza, Sedona talked to me.”

“You’re drunk,” his mother’s voice called from her bedroom.

Sedona picked up the crystal and wiped it on his shirt until it wasn’t wet anymore and all the blades of grass were gone. His father stood beside him, watching what he did and looking up at the tree.

“How did it fall?” his father asked, using a quiet voice.

“My hand let go when I was sleepy,” Sedona said, walking past his father and back into the house. His father followed him in, calling to his mother.

“He’s talking, Liza,” his father said, while Sedona headed up the stairs.

“You’re drunk!” came the voice from behind her door.

Sedona was already out the window and sitting on the tree branch when his father entered his bedroom.

“Sedona, come back inside,” his father said, using his calm voice, but Sedona was too busy hanging up the crystal. He made his way to the very end of the branch, where he tried to put the crystal up between two twigs to be a second moon, but the crystal slipped from his hand.

“Sedona, please,” his father said, reaching out the window as far as he could. Suddenly, his father lost his balance and fell to the ground, twisting and tumbling on the way down the way the crystal had.

Sedona waited for his father to move, but he didn’t. Then, he looked back at the crystal, now catching the light from a passing car and making a rainbow on the side of the house. Sedona smiled and went back to bed. No matter. He would leave his crystal on the lawn. He could get it in the morning before school.

Scaffolding over Invisible Odds

Mabel Lansted used to live in Minnesota before her second husband took her to Arizona and then California in search of warmer weather. Her first husband had died in World War II leaving her alone with two babies, which is when she first learned to “just carry on.” Now, outside Mabel’s living room window, the sun was shining at 9:00 a.m. She was going to write “SUNNY” on her calendar, but forgot when she smelled toast burning.

More and more Mabel seemed to forget little things. She had heard that you could buy more memory for computers and thought it sounded like a good idea. Computers were not part of her life, but her son and his wife used them, as did her granddaughter in college.

Mabel pulled the toast from the toaster and carried it to the sink to salvage it. No sense throwing it away, when she could scrap off the blackened part. That was how she was raised. She saved used bags. She collected cans and bottles when she went for a walk, which was less and less these days. Still, the sun was shining and she decided to go for a stroll before the afternoon wind came up and headed straight for her bones.

The walk to the bus stop on the corner was just long enough. She felt grateful that the bench was there. She was pretty sure she wanted bus 52, but it might be bus 51. They had changed the route number recently, or at least she thought they did. Last time she had ridden the bus, she had ended up on the bad side of town, though she couldn’t remember how. A nice young girl had called Mabel’s son to come and pick her up.

After that fiasco, her son had taken her to see her doctor, who had asked her a lot of silly questions. What year is it? Well, if her doctor didn’t know, why should Mabel tell her? Her doctor was much younger, and it wouldn’t take her nearly as much effort to recall the year. Mabel had almost said “1953” since her son was born that year, but she didn’t. Next her doctor had asked Mabel who lived next door to her. Well, she knew that. That lady with the funny name. She could never remember it, but she was very nice. In the end, Mabel had been happy to go sit in the waiting room while the doctor had talked to her son in private. She could rely on him to get the details while Mabel was happy to watch people coming and going from the office.

It was still sunny when Mabel sat down on the bench, waiting for the #51 or #52 and watching the cars go by. They weren’t anything like the old Studebaker. That had been the first car she and her second husband had bought. It had been cream-colored with lots of chrome and very sturdy. They had taken their summer vacations in it, stopping at road-side rest stops to make sandwiches and use the bathrooms. She could remember that long-ago vacation better than her bus route number.

When the bus arrived, she climbed the steps with care. In fact, she was so focused on the steps that she really didn’t look at the bus number. But it didn’t matter. The bus driver would remember. He had a tattoo on his neck and an earring in his lip. He could have been such a nice-looking man.

She put her token in the slot and headed the nearest seat. The bus started rolling before she could get to her row. The moving vehicle didn’t help her shaky balance, and she was relieved to sit down safely. She would just ride right there until she came back by her stop. When everything looked familiar again, she would get off.

At the next stop, a lady with two little children boarded the bus. They took the seat next to her. She smiled at the little girl with the big brown eyes. She was such a cute little colored girl. Mabel’s son always said not to call people “colored,” but she couldn’t remember what she was supposed to call them. The young mother had her hands full with the little boy, who wasn’t interested in staying in his seat. Mabel tried to help by talking to the little girl.

“And what is your name?” Mabel asked, looking at the little girl with the many braids and peeling fingernail polish.

“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” she said, and then left her seat to move to the one behind her mother.

That’s right. She was a smart little girl. These days, people stole children right off the streets. Not like when Mabel was little back home. Streets were flashing by outside her window, but Mabel was thinking about the old days. Back then, when she was little, she used to walk into town from the family farm. If anyone with a buggy, a car, or a sleigh offered you a ride then, you took it. You never questioned their motives. You just hopped in the back and thanked your lucky stars that you weren’t wearing out your shoe leather.

The bus came to a stop in front of a gray building with blinds on the windows and a sign out front. “Planned Parenthood.” Yes, people could plan parenthood now. Why, if that had been available when she was young and married to her first husband, she just might not have been left a young widow with two mouths to feed. But no one ever heard of the idea of “planning parenthood.” You just got married like you were supposed to and had as many children as the good Lord wanted you to. For Mabel and her second husband, that was only one. Her son.

They left the medical buildings behind, and the bus started driving by multi-storied buildings. They didn’t look familiar to Mabel, so she decided not to get off. She would just watch them go by and remember what she could. Back home, when she was young, there weren’t hardly any buildings with more than three stories, and most with only two or one. What were people doing with all those floors? Her son probably worked in one of those of buildings using a computer, but she wasn’t sure.

The big buildings changed to smaller ones housing pharmacies, gas stations, and restaurants she had never heard of. Why didn’t people eat at home? Were they too busy to buy food and cook it? They just lived in their cars, ate on the go, and never bothered to say hello to anyone. That’s just the way it was now. Her son had told her not to talk to strangers on the bus.

“They’ll only think you are a loony,” he had told her. She had seen some “loonies” on the bus, but they usually only talked to themselves.

Before she knew it, they were passing that gray building with the blue sign again. Planned Parenthood. And the lady who had exited there with her two children was getting back on the bus. Maybe that meant Mabel had missed her stop. If so, she really hadn’t noticed. The young lady was more relaxed now, and settling her children into their seats.

“Well, hello,” the lady said, her brown eyes a tired version of her daughter’s. “You were here the last time we were.”

“Yes, I think I missed my stop,” Mabel said. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m not in a hurry.”

“Oh, I wish I wasn’t,” the young mother said. “I certainly didn’t have time for another child.”

Apparently there was something Mabel missed, but that wasn’t surprising. She seemed to miss more than she caught these days.

“Why, yes,” Mabel said, since she felt she should say something. “I think you have a handful here.” Mabel knew from experience. “I remember when I was all alone and raising two children. It was everything I could do to keep them warm, dry, and fed.”

“So true,” the lady said, casting an eye on her son who looked about three and had decided to sit by himself. “I just couldn’t handle one more. Do you think that makes me a bad person?”

“Of course not,” Mabel said, shifting her purse to her lap so she could twist in her seat and talk to the young mother across the aisle from her. “You are just trying to do the best you can with the two you have. Why would that make you a bad person?”

“Well, so many people think that life begins at conception,” the young woman said. Her son had lain down in the seat and had fallen asleep. Her daughter was puffing warm breath on the window and drawing faces with her fingertip.

“Those people are not raising children by themselves,” Mabel answered frankly. “I remember trying to keep the fire going, do laundry, hang sheets on the line, cook dinner, and then clean the house. The coal for the furnace was in the basement, the clothes line was outside, the washer was in the garage, and we lived on the second floor. I remember clearly—which I never do—that there were nights that I went to bed in my clothes because I was too tired to undress.”

“Exactly,” said the woman.

“And my in-laws, my husband’s people, were asking me if I was making sure the children were happy and asking me if I was sure they were eating healthy meals, when I was lucky to keep them safe and didn’t have enough money to feed them much at all.”

“Oh, sister, you are preaching to the choir.”

“It is not for other people to know your business. You certainly can’t live your life so they sleep well at night. For heaven’s sake, there are orphans they could take into their homes. If they are so full of advice about how to raise children, they should be helping those children who don’t have parents. That would keep them busy enough to stay out of other people’s lives.”

“You’re right,” the mother said, and she seemed to be crying and smiling at the same time. “You know, the next stop is mine, so this one coming up could be yours.”

Mabel looked out the window and there was the bench near her corner.

“Why thank you,” Mabel said. “I would have missed it again. Me just talking away and not paying attention.” She reached over and pulled the string to stop the bus.

“No, I’m glad we talked,” the young mother said. “I feel much better now.”

“Well, good,” Mabel said as she rose to leave the bus. It was hard to talk and walk at the same time, so she stood still to talk to the young mother. “You know, don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t doing the right thing. It’s all we can do sometimes to just carry on. But that’s what’s important. You just carry on with your head up.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the young mother answered.

Mabel smiled at her little girl, who smiled back. Colored children were so adorable. She turned and focused on the steps that led from the parked bus. Yes, that was her stop after all. The bus pulled away with the little girl waving at her from the window. Mabel waved back, and then looked up and down the street. She was pretty sure she knew the way home from there.